Film fuels discussion, relays historic story


By Xavier Johnson, Scene Editor

Director Nate Parker’s film “The Birth of a Nation” based on the Nat Turner-led slave rebellion in 1831 will be released Oct. 7 amid a storm of consternation and dispute.

The film received national acclaim after its debut at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, held annually in Park City, Utah.

I was excited for the film and I know of plenty of people who were excited as I was after seeing the trailers.

Unfortunately, “The Birth of Nation” has been soured for me and many others due to the resurfacing of a 1999 case where director and top-billed actor Nate Parker was charged with sexual assault while he was attending Penn State University.

In the trial, Parker was found to be not guilty.

I want to see the movie and I want to support films that tell the stories of blacks in the United States.

But can I separate the art from the artist? The answer is complicated.

If we only enjoyed art by artists with clean pasts there wouldn’t be any art.

Picasso abused women but he’s still a revered artist and Dr. Dre battered reporter Dee Barnes but is still one of the most respected hip hop artists ever.

Clearly, as a society, if Chris Brown still tops the charts, we can separate the art from the artist.

I find myself being able to make the separation as well. I can still watch the matches of professional wrestler Chris Benoit who killed his wife and son before taking his own life in 2007.

I still listen to Eminem in spite of his lyrics that are filled to the brim with toxic views about women.

I even  enjoy some Chris Brown songs.

There are cases where I simply can’t separate the art from the artist. One example is Bill Cosby. After the flood of sexual assault accusations that surfaced last year against Cosby I became soured on Cosby’s work. I recognize him as an incredible comedian but I can’t watch his work anymore.

I haven’t even watched the great sitcom “The Cosby Show” since the accusations. It was one of my favorite shows. But watching Cosby portray Heathcliff Huxtable in the show is troubling.

In Cosby’s case, the issue was how similar Cliff Huxtable the character was to Cosby the actual man. In that case, it’s difficult to separate the art from the artist because they are essentially the same person.

The ideals and personality traits of Huxtable were the same as the public persona of Cosby.

This brings me back to “The Birth of a Nation.” Parker’s portrayal of Turner will not be as closely connected as Cosby to his portrayal of Huxtable.

There will be a clear separation between Parker and Turner.

At least, that’s how I choose to rationalize it. This is all very complicated.

I realize I’m a hypocrite in a way for not taking in Cosby’s art because it’s too tied with his personal life, but still listening to Eminem whose music reflects his genuine views.

And also for watching Benoit when professional wrestling characters are a direct extension of who they are in real life.

I will probably still watch “The Birth of a Nation.” When I do I will try my best to appreciate the film for what it is.

I will most likely feel conflicted while watching, but that’s the nature of the beast when consuming art from troubled artists I guess.